Here is the conclusion to chapter 7: Methane and Fracking.
Here's the link to the first part and the other threads to all the chapters of my book, Fever Rising.
Methane and Fracking, part 1
Chapter 7: Methane and Fracking, Continued
Before I go on, let’s go back to school for a sec and discuss what methane is. There are three types of methane gas. First, there is thermogenic
methane, which is gas that is believed to be formed from organic matter (plants and animals) that over millions of years compresses deep under the
earth’s crust under high pressure. As time goes on, the organic matter slips further below the surface underneath sediments. The closer to the
surface, it is believed to be under a lower temperature and forms into oil, but, the deeper the matter, the temperatures are much higher and it forms
into natural gas. Basically, the compression and the higher temperatures break down carbon bonds in the organic matter creating natural gas and
sometimes, the deeper under the crust, pure methane deposits.
Microorganisms also create methane, known as biogenic methane. These little bugs are called methanogens. These tiny organisms produce methane by
chemically breaking down organic matter. These bugs usually live near the surface of the earth in areas without oxygen. They also live in the
intestines of animals, including humans. Landfills also produce a lot of this gas. Most biogenic methane, when created, is lost to the atmosphere.
The third way methane is produced is the abiogenic process. Deep under the earth’s crust are hydrogen-rich gases and carbon molecules that slowly
rise to the surface interacting with minerals as they do. In this oxygen-less environment, elements such as nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide are
produced through the interaction. These gases will themselves slowly move towards the surface under a great deal of high pressure and then, similar to
thermogenic methane, the process creates methane deposits.
Now that these methane deposits have formed deep under the surface, they will themselves slowly seep to the surface through loose, shale-type rock and
other materials. Some of the deposits will make it to the surface at which time, one of two things will happen. They normally dissipate or enter the
atmosphere. This gas would be harmless in the atmosphere because of its short life-cycle of nine years, but, I believe too much methane is building
up faster than the life-cycle will allow it to dissipate.
Most of the deposits formed down deep will get trapped under ground. Sedimentary rock contains the gases where they can’t penetrate through the
layer on top of them. Some of these traps can be very large and hold a lot of methane deposits. They are called reservoirs. To bring this gas back up
to the surface, a hole must be drilled through that thick layer of rock and the gas is released under high pressure.
There is a December, 2012, article from National Geographic, written by Marianne Lavelle, which has a lot of information on how much economical impact
fracking has had and will have in the future. The article details how much natural gas we are producing. It’s a lengthy article with a lot of
information about gas vents in the Arctic. In the first section it talks about the thousands of methane bubbles found on frozen lakes in the Arctic.
They break the ice and as the methane gas bubble bursts, they light them on fire. I suggest reading the entire article at;
“Burn natural gas and it warms your house. But let it leak, from fracked wells or the melting Arctic, and it warms the whole planet,” from the
According to the article, since 2005, when fracking began, gas production from deep shales has increased more than tenfold; it now accounts for more
than a third of total production. The article stated that we surpassed our oil record-producing days of the early 1970’s and, within a decade the
United States will be a net exporter of natural gas. The Department of Energy projects that U.S. gas production will rise rapidly and that shale gas
will make up half of the total energy production by 2035.
“And deep shales are not the last methane source. DOE and the industry are trying to figure out how to tap the largest one of all—the methane
hydrates that lie frozen under vast areas of seafloor and Arctic permafrost,” the article stated. “Worldwide, hydrates may contain more energy
than all other fossil fuels combined. They’re usually snow-white and look like ice, but they’re strange stuff, and extracting the methane is
tricky. Each molecule is trapped in a cage of water molecules that’s stable only at high pressure and low temperatures; change either just a bit,
and the cage crumbles. The escaping methane balloons in volume by a factor of 164.”
The National Geographic article also examines the leveling off of methane release from 1999 to 2006. The article claimed that researchers credited
Asian rice farmers because they began draining their paddies during the growing season to conserve water. This process reduced methane emissions.
Researchers also claim that the oil industry may have helped the leveling off because they started capturing and selling methane it used to simply
vent. Whatever caused the methane emission levels to decrease in the late 1990’s isn’t working anymore. In fact, when the emission began again in
2007, the skyrocketed past previous levels.
“Many observers believe it’s no coincidence that the number of wells punched into deep shales has been soaring too,” the article stated.
Is it too late to stop the boom? Many countries around the world have already banned fracking. Several countries that started have recently put a
moratorium on it until further studies can be performed to make sure that it’s not contaminating the water supply, degrading landscapes and causing
other possible health effects. Here in the United States, the boom in fracking has become a huge part of the economy and I’m sure it’s much too
late to stop now unless concrete evidence can be presented that it’s harmful to us and our environment in more ways than one. Plenty of evidence is
already staring us in the face. Earthquakes are caused by fracking, as well as contamination to water supplies.
These shale rocks lie just below the water table and the drilling process goes right through the water. The gas is extracted from the rocks, then
pumped up to the surface, but there is a horizontal drilling process once the depth is reached and that’s where the rocks are punctured that free
the gas. The methane then rises up through the rocks and is sent out to the surface. How much of that gas continues to rise straight up and right into
that water table?